NEW ORLEANS — Violinist and restaurant owner Henry Helyong Lee, whose now shuttered Korean restaurant in New Orleans was known for operatic waiters and performances by Lee and other musicians, is dead at age 76.
Lee died Wednesday of heart failure. A memorial service is planned for 5 p.m. Saturday at Jacob Schoen and Son, funeral director Kevin Hasson said Thursday.
For 28 years, Lee ran New Orleans’ first Korean restaurant, called Genghis Khan, which closed in 2004.
Dressed in his concert tuxedo, Lee would often switch roles from food provider to violinist, delighting diners with classical pieces.
Or “another performer would sit down at the piano and serenade the dining room for awhile, with a few duets with Henry Lee sprinkled in for contrast,” restaurant critic Tom Fitzmorris wrote in a 2011 remembrance on his website, The New Orleans Menu. “Or it might be a guitarist or a flautist or some other deft local musician. . . . And now you’d hear voices raised in song. . . . A few diners with trained voices would sometimes join in.”
“Which was better: the food or the music? Both were first-class,” Fitzmorris wrote.
Lee was born Oct. 9, 1940, in Chun Ju, South Korea, and grew up in Seoul, Hasson said.
According to Lee’s website , he graduated in music performance from Seoul National University and was first violinist for KBS Symphony Orchestra in Seoul before being invited to study in the United States.
He was 25 when he came to the United States in 1965.
After graduate studies in performance and conducting at Louisiana State University, he played for 20 years with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and its predecessor.
Lee moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but continued to visit New Orleans and to perform into his 70s, Fitzmorris wrote.